Sorry it’s been so long since we’ve posted anything; we’ve been very busy with other projects. For myself, and I’m sure Scott would agree, I just can’t give up on the idea of this blog–however flawed it might be and however infrequently I might post something.
Enough preamble, let’s talk about boycotts.
Here’s a link to a piece that raises interesting questions about boycotts and violence.
The basic thought seems to be that boycotts, as tools of political persuasion, exert force (by the withdrawal of economic support) to gain adherence to some perspective. Here is the conlcusion:
Still, the question does give pause. Boycotts do occupy part of a spectrum of direct-action activities, understood as extra-legal activities designed to change someone’s behaviour. They are attempts to go beyond rational persuasion to take matters into one’s own hands, to force an outcome that one is unable or unwilling to argue for. Of course, that’s probably sometimes morally required. But it’s not to be taken lightly.
In argumentation this is what you’d call the ad baculum. I’ve been thinking about this for a bit (Here’s a post and you can read something longer here if you want). The basic idea of the ad baculum is that force isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a reason to conclude something. There’s quite a lot of literature on this, odd as that may seem. The basic struggle is how to account for the fallaciousness of the appeal to force. The standard textbook examples (unchanged through many editions) are hilarious.
I loathe to write a ton about this right now, but I would like to add one thought to the idea of ad baculums and violence (that I don’t think was raised in the piece). The boycott might be understood as a means to drawing attention to the reasons rather than an end in itself. So, perhaps people boycott product x not to bring about the end of x, but rather to call attention to the argument in question. To understand this you have to look at the audience as well as the target. So, when people boycott, perhaps they want people to ask: why are they boycotting stuff?